Traditional braces are comprised of three separate components: the brace itself, which is placed on the tooth; the archwire running through each brace and applying pressure to the teeth; and an elastic tie, which connects the archwire to the brace. The term "smart braces" often refers to self-ligating or speed braces, which are braces that are held in place without the use of bands or ties.
3M's SmartClip braces, for example, rely on an innovative clip system to hold the wires in place. They're available in both metal and a translucent ceramic material designed to blend in with the teeth for a less noticeable presentation. Similarly, SPEED Braces use a spring clip that provides continuous force without requiring elastic ties. Damon Clear braces, on the other hand, use a so-called slide system to hold the braces in place.
Manufacturers say that self-ligating braces move teeth into position more efficiently and comfortably, shorten overall treatment time and may mean fewer and quicker visits to the orthodontist for adjustments. [sources: 3M, SPEED, Damon]. Like traditional braces, the various self-ligating models are glued to the teeth and are not removed until the process is completed.
The term "smart braces" has also been used to describe braces technology designed by scientists at the University of Freiburg in Germany, which features an embedded system on each individual brace to measure and calculate the forces applied in all directions on each tooth. Under the University's current design, the chip is powered by special reader that orthodontists can use to analyze the data gathered in the chip. By giving the orthodontist an accurate reading of the pressure being applied to each particular tooth, the hope is that smart braces can reduce both discomfort to the wearer and the length of time for the straightening process. The technology is similar to what's currently used in smart retainers, which feature a micro-sensor to track the retainer's performance [sources: Moyer, Scientific Compliance].
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